Adam is on his way over.
My apartment doesn’t have a door buzzer, so Adam always calls when he’s two minutes away. He never says he’s two minutes away; he says he’s already at my door, because he knows I’m always trying to finish something before I open up.
Over the noise of the shower, I hear my phone buzz. I reach around the plastic curtain. It’s 6:31 p.m.
“Hi, I’m here,” he says.
I bound down the stairs holding the towel nest on top of my head. I can see the shape of his face through the window. Adam resembles a Viking who works in finance. I see the beginnings of a smile. (0 milliseconds)
I see a tan, scruffiness and boyishness. (40 milliseconds) I register the shape of his face, his small bright almond eyes, his overbite (which I find darling), and his hairline. (50 milliseconds) The skin at the edge of his eyes is starting to wrinkle into little creases, and his strong forehead suggests an aggressive masculinity that is at odds with his personality. (70 milliseconds) I know it’s Adam from a flight away. (90 milliseconds)
I know his hair is starting to thin because I remember our very first fight when I asked whether he was balding. I can almost smell the patchouli of his beard oil—which he leaves at my apartment every other week—through the door. It reminds me of our mornings together before heading to our offices from a different lifetime. (400 milliseconds)
We exchange smiles while I unlock the pair of doors between us. We kiss on the cheek. We hug.
“How long have you been waiting?” I ask.
“Oh, just got here. I called from two blocks away.”
Light reflected from Adam’s face is absorbed by my retina, which sends signals down the optic nerve toward a relay center called the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). Here, visual information is passed on to other parts of the brain. The LGN is housed in the thalamus, a small region above the brain stem that sends sensory information to the CEREBRAL CORTEX,
the brain’s main control center.
The LGN starts to build a representation of what I am looking at for the visual cortex by combining information from both eyes.
The visual cortex registers what I am seeing outside my door.
Structures in the back of my temporal lobe, called the face patches—the occipital face area (OFA), the fusiform face area (FFA), and the superior temporal sulcus (STS)—tell me that I am looking at a face and start to categorize its gender and age.
The face patches tell me this face belongs to a single person and then compare it with faces I have seen before.
By now, my brain has recruited portions of the FRONTAL, PARIETAL, and TEMPORAL lobes that store memory and emotion to discern whether Adam’s face is familiar. The AMYGDALA, where most of my emotion controls are, is also involved. Together, these areas help me recall core information about him.
Humans and technology
The metaverse has a groping problem already
A woman was sexually harassed on Meta’s VR social media platform. She’s not the first—and won’t be the last.
The worst technology of 2021
Face filters, billionaires in space, and home-buying algorithms that overpay all made our annual list of technology gone wrong.
Tonga’s volcano blast cut it off from the world. Here’s what it will take to get it reconnected.
The world is anxiously awaiting news from the island—but on top of the physical destruction, the eruption has disconnected it from the internet.
Have a better 2022 with these tech resolutions
Embrace the infinite inbox, avoid video chats, and other advice to help you in the new year
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.